April 2, 2023

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Iran, Saudi Arabia agree to restore diplomatic ties after years of hostility

Iran and Saudi Arabia on Friday agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and reopen embassies after years of tensions between the two countries, including a devastating attack on the heart of the kingdom’s oil production attributed to Tehran.

The deal, struck in Beijing this week amid its ceremonial National People’s Congress, represents a major diplomatic victory for the Chinese as Gulf Arab states perceive the United States slowly withdrawing from the wider Middle East. It also comes as diplomats have been trying to end a years-long war in Yemen, a conflict in which both Iran and Saudi Arabia are deeply entrenched.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have held off-and-on talks in recent years, but it wasn’t immediately clear if Yemen was the impetus for this new detente.

The two countries released a joint communique on the deal with China, which brokered the agreement. Chinese state media did not immediately report the agreement but Iranian state media posted footage in which Wang Yi, Beijing’s most senior diplomat, offered “wholehearted congratulations” to the two countries for their “wisdom.”

A bearded man in dark clothing and glasses is shown seated and speaking into a microphone.
Ali Shamkhani, seen in Tehran on Sept. 26, 2018, represented Iran in the talks. Iran and Saudi Arabia have held off-and-on talks in recent years, but it wasn’t immediately clear if Yemen was the impetus for the new talks. (Atta Kenara/AFP/Getty Images)

In the footage Yi is joined by Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, and Saudi national security adviser Musaad bin Mohammed al-Aiban.

“Removing misunderstandings and the future-oriented views in relations between Tehran and Riyadh will definitely lead to improving regional stability and security, as well as increasing cooperation among Persian Gulf nations and the world of Islam for managing current challenges,” Shamkhani was quoted as saying.

Saudis kept U.S. informed: White House

The joint statement calls for the re-establishing of ties and the reopening of embassies to happen “within a maximum period of two months.”

The Saudi government confirmed the development in its own statement.

The White House was aware of the talks.

“The Saudis did keep us informed about these talks that they were having, just as we keep them informed on our engagements, but we weren’t directly involved,” White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.

China, which recently hosted Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi, is also a top purchaser of Saudi oil. President Xi Jinping, just awarded a third five-year term as president earlier on Friday, visited Riyadh in December to attend meetings with oil-rich Gulf Arab nations crucial to China’s energy supplies.

Tensions have been high between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The kingdom broke off ties with Iran in 2016 after protesters invaded Saudi diplomatic posts there. Saudi Arabia had executed a prominent Shia cleric days earlier, triggering the demonstrations.

A man in a head covering is shown in closeup.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is shown in Jeddah in a file photo. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press)

The execution came as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, then a deputy, began his rise to power. The son of King Salman, Prince Mohammed at one point compared Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler, and also threatened to strike Iran.

In the years since, tensions have risen dramatically across the Middle East since the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018. Iran has been blamed for a series of attacks in the time since, including one that targeted the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry in 2019, temporarily halving the kingdom’s crude production.

Though Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels initially claimed that attack, Western nations and experts have blamed the attack on Tehran. Iran long has denied launching the attack. It has also denied carrying out other assaults later attributed to the Islamic Republic.

The night sky is shown lit up by a large fire.
Fire forms as an oil depot lights the sky over Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in March 2022, as Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels attacked an oil depot in the Saudi city. A six-month ceasefire in Yemen’s war, the longest of the conflict, expired in October despite diplomatic efforts to renew it. (Hassan Ammar/The Associated Press)

Kristian Ulrichsen, a research fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute who long has studied the region, said Saudi Arabia reaching the deal with Iran came after the United Arab Emirates reached a similar understanding with Tehran.

“This dialling down of tensions and de-escalation has been underway for three years and this was triggered by Saudi acknowledgement in their view that without unconditional U.S. backing they were unable to project power vis-à-vis Iran and the rest of the region,” he said.

Prince Mohammed, now focused on massive construction projects in his own country, likely wants to finally pull out of the Yemen war as well, Ulrichsen added.

Tens of thousands killed in Yemen

The Houthis seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2014 and forced the internationally recognized government into exile in Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-led coalition armed with U.S. and Canadian weaponry, and American intelligence, entered the war on the side of Yemen’s exiled government in March 2015. Years of inconclusive fighting has created a humanitarian disaster and pushed the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of famine.

A six-month ceasefire in Yemen’s war, the longest of the conflict, expired in October despite diplomatic efforts to renew it. That led to fears the war could again escalate. More than 150,000 people have been killed in Yemen during the fighting, including over 14,500 civilians.

Iran denies arming the Houthis, despite weapons seized mirroring others seen on the battlefield in the rebels’ hands. A United Nations arms embargo bars nations from sending weapons to the Houthis.

In recent months, negotiations have been ongoing, including in Oman, a longtime interlocutor between Iran and the U.S. Oman and Iraq were among the nations to immediately praise Friday’s deal in their own statements.

Original News : https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/iran-saudis-announcement-1.6774474?cmp=rss

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